Making Meshi

I was five, rolling grape leaves
into thick fingers: meshi.  Ne touche pas,
ne touche pas
, my father trying to hug
his mother's back, proudly bowed
before the oven.  God-damned French
.  Everyone laughed
when Grandpa swore in Arabic, as if
the language itself were a punch line.

Plucking grape leaves from

the patio vine.  Everyone reaching
for words to describe them, all garlic
lemon on the tongue.  Why did he talk
to her like that?  Washing,  
spreading the leaves open, 
veins pointed up.  Grandma's tongue
a Beirut convent, Grandpa's tongue
planted between his teeth, biting off
his Arabic.  It was pride, 
the way they held
or lashed their tongues.  Spooning spiced rice
into the palm.  Folding the base
inward to center.  Grandpa scolded a cusser: 
what kind of language is that?  Aroma
of arms.  Tucking the wings in
—but unwinding, undone in young fingers.
I can't keep them all together.  Laying torn leaves 
to blanket the pot.  Years later, lying in
my father's room, in summer's
oven, I heard them, whispering, in their bed.  Beyond 
the wall, all embers and breathing.